UFC 185 offers a buffet of brutality with some very close contests this Saturday night. The tagline, “Welcome to the Show”, is a respectful nod to the dynamic lightweight champion, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, but also highlights the spectacle that this event might prove to be. There’s a great mix of power punchers, gritty grinders, and a few enigmas on this fight card, which starts a stretch of stacked events that will span into the spring.
Anthony Pettis (12,200) vs Rafael Dos Anjos (7,600)
To call lightweight champion Anthony Pettis a striker, you have to expand the definition of the word. Because in addition to the crippling kicks from his taekwondo base, Pettis can truly strike with his jiu-jitsu, impossibly catching the arms and necks of former champs. He can strike using the cage, bouncing off the boundary to land unexpected blows and create openings. This unpredictability makes him arguably the most exciting of the current UFC champions.
The challenger, Rafael Dos Anjos has consistently made great fighters crack under his pressure. Most notably knocking out former champion Benson Henderson and recently slapping around Nate Diaz at will. He has every right to enter this fight feeling like a world-beater but the champ might just not be of this world. Rafael will be a game opponent and march forward but Pettis should deftly counter the challenger’s onslaught. Don’t blink or you might miss the highlight as Pettis wins via stoppage (KO, TKO or SUB) to remain lightweight champion.
Fight Prediction: Pettis via KO
Carla Esparza (10,500) vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk (9,000)
In her first title defense since earning the inaugural strawweight (115lbs) strap, Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza will face undefeated Joanna “JJ” Jedrzejczyk in the card’s co-main event. Their drastically different styles, Esparza being a wrestler and Joanna a Muay Thai champion, might result in a “Fight of the Night” scrap or nullify into a twenty-five minute buzzkill. In Carla’s last match her opponent “Thug” Rose Namajunas utilized an ineffective strategy of flashy attacks, which allowed Esparza to repeatedly take Rose down, expose her on the mat and sink in a rear-naked choke in the third round. JJ has shown impressive aggression, strength and takedown defense, which could cause problems for the champ. However, Carla’s ability to time, catch and transition kicks into driving takedowns is noteworthy and might be the difference as the match continues. Joanna’s winging right hand, combination work, and energy management could prove the perfect combination to dismantle the current champion.
The odds are close in this fight for good reason and picking JJ is a worthwhile risk. It all depends on how well the Muay Thai fighter handles Esparza’s relentless wrestling. Joanna will definitely “win” the weigh-in face-off (seriously a must watch) mean mugging on Friday and just might steal the show as her sharp striking snatches the straw-weight championship from Esparza via TKO on Saturday night.
Fight Prediction: Jerdrejczyk by TKO%
Johny Hendricks (11,700) vs Matt Brown (7,800)
Any Matt “The Immortal” Brown fight is a must watch affair and his entertainment value cannot be questioned. Former champ Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks will test Brown’s right to hang with the elite of the welterweight division in a match that has all the makings of a classic three round clash. Brown’s clearest path to victory is relentlessly pressuring Bigg Rigg despite overwhelming punishment and to trudge through hell towards a decision victory. This is much easier said than done against Hendricks, a hulking wrestler turned KO artist with elusive speed. Through multiple title bouts, Bigg Rigg has added new weapons to his attack, but the kicks he has developed could get him into trouble when facing Brown’s arsenal of Muay Thai throws. Johny should be able to take Brown down at will, yet The Immortal’s crafty guard could catch for the former champ at any moment.
Despite a known vulnerability to body shots, Matt Brown is never out of a fight and always has the potential to play the spoiler if you find yourself with less than 8k for your last pick. However, Hendricks’ hand speed, ability to dissolve distance, and comfort at close range give Bigg Rigg numerous routes for victory and should lead him to a unanimous decision win with the potential of a flash KO.
Fight Prediction: Hendricks by Unanimous Decision
Alistair Overeem (11,100) vs Roy Nelson (8,400)
Roy “Big Country” Nelson’s strategy is as obvious as his distaste for the barber: back up his opponent and pop that right hand cannon. A cunning Mark Hunt managed Nelson perfectly and Alistair “The Demolition Man” Overeem should be studying that playbook. However, it’s been impossible to predict how focused and strategic Overeem will be when he enters a fight. His hubris is what knocked him out against both Bigfoot and Browne, which makes it tough to trust the Dutch striker. Overeem has more technical tools for success but his seemingly glass jaw and equally fragile focus make Nelson a valuable underdog pick at $8,400.
Unless Overeem has turned a corner and seen the light, all Nelson has to do is touch him to end this fight at any minute. Don’t be surprised if the barrel-chested brute demolishes the Dutch adonis early via KO.
Fight Prediction: Nelson via KO
Henry Cejudo (12,400) vs Chris Cariaso (7,100)
Surging Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo finally has the chance to deliver a strong signal to the flyweight division as he welcomes former title contender Chris Cariaso back to the cage. Cejudo looked stellar in his last fight, but that was a world away at 135 lbs and weight cutting has been an issue for the potential prospect in the past. Cariaso is returning from a long layoff so ‘ring rust’ will be the biggest question regarding the veteran’s performance. I know I’ll be watching the weigh-ins on Friday to make my final decision based on Cejudo’s appearance and ability to weigh 125 lbs comfortably. If anything goes wrong when Cejudo steps on the scale, picking Cariaso at $7,100 would be a steal to open up some funds for another favored fighter.
I think this match could be a much closer contest than the odds indicate due to the change in weight class and Henry’s trouble shedding the pounds in the past. “The Messenger” Cejudo will face his first real test at 125lbs and with that perhaps a humbling loss to underdog “Kamikazi” Cariaso via split decision.
Fight Prediction: Cariaso via Split Decision
Jared Rosholt (11,400) vs Josh Copeland (8,100)
Jared “The Big Show” Rosholt hopes to bounce back from a quick KO loss as he faces Josh “Cuddly Bear” Copeland. Cuddly Bear is a stalwart slugger whose only loss was his last match where he dropped his UFC debut via unanimous decision.
This will likely turn into a slobber-knocker that could end in one wild exchange. If you’re keen on picking a cheap underdog with the potential for a KO, it might as well be a heavyweight named Cuddly Bear. However, all things considered Rosholt should be able to weather the storm and secure an ugly win via unanimous decision.
Fight Prediction: Rosholt by Unanimous Decision
Ross Pearson (11,800) vs Sam Stout (7,700)
Sam “Hands of Stone” Stout returns to the cage after a significant time off to recover from the first KO loss of his long career. Fans are guaranteed a war of attrition when Stout fights but recently that’s only if his opponent is willing to blindly brawl. More and more often, faster and more fluid fighters have been dismantling Stout with increasing ease. Pearson is too slick for simple slugging and this tune-up match should be the first step back towards relevance for “Real Deal” Ross after being bested last November by Al Iaquinta.
Using his ability to slip-and-counter Ross should handle the slower Stout and earn the victory via TKO.
Fight Prediction: Ross by TKO